How do you help children who don’t naturally have social skills to develop them?
MOLLY: This question came from a mom in Michigan. She added that her son is an introverted child, very smart but having trouble with manners and social skills.
DR. SUSAN RUTHERFORD (Molly’s Mom): It is not uncommon for an introverted child who is very smart to have trouble with social niceties. His parents will definitely want to be aware of their roles as teachers of manners and social skills during his childhood as he will need to use these tools throughout his life.
MOLLY: What should this mom do to help him?
DR. RUTHERFORD: One of the earliest skills she can teach him is how to meet someone properly. She’ll need to instruct him that when he meets someone, he should shake that person’s hand, say hello and look the person in the eye. She will need to practice this action with him.
I can remember teaching the proper way to meet someone to you when you and your sister were young, and more recently to my grandchildren. After several repetitions children learn very quickly.
The eye contact part is very important. If the child shakes the person’s hand and doesn’t look at the person while doing it, they need to practice over and over again until they master it. It won’t take very long at all.
MOLLY: What else could a parent teach a shy child like this one?
DR. RUTHERFORD: She’ll want to teach him to be polite, to not interrupt other people while they’re speaking, and to actively listen when others speak.
MOLLY: And there’s always the basic “Ps and Qs”, or remembering to say please and thank you…
DR. RUTHERFORD: Right, saying please and thank you is perhaps the most basic social skill in our society.
MOLLY: The reader also mentioned something that she’s already implemented at her house: her kids are not allowed to leave the dinner table until they have asked at least one question of someone else at the table. It can be a simple question such as, “How was your day?” I thought that sounded like a good and easy exercise to do at the dinner table to help learn social interactions with other people.
DR. RUTHERFORD: Yes, I agree. The exercise helps children to learn to both express themselves and also listen to other people.
The bottom line is that she’s teaching empathic skills which are very, very important in life if you want to have friends. In a civilized society, there is an unwritten code of conduct. Parents can help their children decipher this code when they’re young so that the interactions come naturally to them throughout their lives.
People who don’t receive this education early may find themselves socially awkward as teens and adults, and the lack of social skills can hold someone back from relationships, jobs, and other opportunities to grow and enjoy life.